I\’m against killing people but

Make certain exceptions: immediate self defence and in the course of a Just War.

OK, we can argue about whether Afghanistan actually is a Just War, but that it is a war does lead to a certain possible relxation of the restrictions against capital punishment.

A US soldier has shot dead 16 Afghan civilians, nine of them children, in a night-time shooting spree in a village outside his base in southern Afghanistan, a rampage the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, said was \”impossible to forgive\”.

There\’s an argument that the solution to this is vile, simple and necessary.

A drumhead court martial and a public hanging (long drop please, execution not torture) in the village in question.

By, say, Thursday this week.

That is, of course, a complete abandonment of the no capital punishment ever position. Not that I\’ve ever actually held that position but I\’ve always been very close to it.

However, I know that there are various ex-military readers here. And your solution to this specific sort of thing would be what?

25 comments on “I\’m against killing people but

  1. Is there ever a solution to someone suffering an unknown and unheralded* psychotic break?

    * Assuming there wer no warning signs yet to come out…

  2. As ex-miltary ….

    Julie has a point but so have you. It would have been better if someone, preferably from his side, had shot him before capture, however that didn’t happen.

    If he did flip then the long drop in a public execution is going to be very bad for morale. However most squaddies will also understand that if he doesn’t their lives has just got a whole lot more dangerous, but I suspect it is going to get more dangerous even if he does take the long drop.

    What it does show is that we’ve reached the end of the road. We cannot now win the hearts and minds war, if we every could, and we certainly aren’t going to win without the will of the people. Time to cut our losses even if it means those very Afghans who we have helped are going to suffer as the country to medieval tribal warfare with women and children suffering.

  3. We usually jail them, if they haven’t killed themselves first. Most murders aren’t pre-planned events. They result from someone suffering an unknown and unheralded psychotic break.

    My question would be who tries this soldier? In most cases, I think, the status of forces agreement would distinguish between illegal behaviour by a soldier in the course of duty/action and those when not on duty ie a fight after a night on the tiles. In the latter case, the soldier may be handed over to the local authorities for trial.

    Into which category does this case fall?

  4. I do not share your general opposition to capital punishment. I would prefer to go back to the situation in the UK of the mid-twentieth century, when a small proportion of murders (between 1 in 8 and 1 in 23) were punished by death. Those murders resulting in execution were generally those marked by particular horror, multiple murders or murders of police officers, where it was held that the imposition of the death penalty was a necessary extra deterrent given the extra risks they face.

    In some form all of the above criteria apply to this crime – the equivalent of the “deterrent” is that swift and visible punishment might make revenge from the bereaved and outraged relatives less likely.

    Unfortunately we are too delicate for all that these days, even though it would probably save lives.

  5. What happened to leaving him alone with a large brandy and a loaded Webley?

    Or was that only for officers?

  6. @ Richard
    “Officers and gentlemen” who were expected to do “the right thing”. For other ranks, as Simon F says, “It would have been better if someone, preferably from his side, had shot him before capture”

  7. Natalie Solent.
    The problem with the death penalty is that is it final. You cannot, with the benefit of hind-sight, bring the dead back and apologise for killing them. The mid-C20 you site was blighted by a run of cases that are to-day regarded as miscarriages of justice: Derek Bentley, Ruth Ellis, Timothy Evans.
    Life imprisonment gives time a chance to reverse what may have been overly emotional verdicts.
    Did I not hear that the GI involved in Afghanistan had suffered a ‘Psychotic incident’ not long ago? In which case who the hell allowed him to stay out there with a loaded gun in his hand?

  8. Nick Luke – of the three miscarriages of justice you one, only two are really such. There’s no doubt Ellis pulled the trigger, all that’s left are quibbles about whether she should have been executed because she was ‘a wronged woman’.

  9. Nick (#7), probably because the Yanks would have no soliders left if they excluded all the psychotic ones.

  10. Julia: no. Ellis shouldn’t have been executed – because as Natalie notes, the vast majority of murderers in that period weren’t executed, and neither her past (which was scandalous to maiden aunts, but not criminal) nor the nature of her crime (which is where the crime of passion bit comes in: her victim wasn’t a cop or a kid or a stranger) should have qualified her for that fate *given that they didn’t qualify anyone else*.

    If we’d had a mandatory death sentence in practice in the 1950s, Ellis’s execution would have been harsh but fair. As it was, she was executed solely for being tarty.

  11. john b, wasn’t it partly because she shot him several times in the public street, with passers-by passing by (one of whom was slightly injured by a ricocheting bullet)?

    It’s the “don’t frighten the horses” rule again.

  12. Previous Military experience. This was just the type of hard case that military law was designed to deal with It is not just the rights of an individual soldier that has to be considered, but the effect of his horrific act on the people we are supposed to be defending, its adverse effect upon afghan operations and the effect upon our troops still serving in the area. The human rights activists have so twisted Military Law that the core basis of military discipline is no longer easy to enforce, but in this case, the legally sanctioned death of the GI is necessary for the continuance of the campaign.

  13. I see no need to view the Bentley verdict as a miscarriage. It seems pretty fair to view the Evans case as a miscarriage.

  14. It’s funny how the taliban’s exactions against afghans themselves are rarely reported (check out Michael Yon’s blog). They do not care about hearts and minds, which is why they will win.

  15. dearieme,
    I thought Bentley conviction stood on the interpretation of the infamous.
    ‘Give it to him, Derek.’
    It was. of course a Rozzer wot caught it, and the police had probably colluded on their evidence.
    Do you think the impression I have that there were grounds for reasonable doubt is the result of more modern liberal spin?

  16. The expression was “Let him have it”, famous from cowboy and gangster films of the era. It may have influenced the sentence but it was unnecessary to getting a conviction. Going out on a robbery where someone gets murdered makes you a murderer – that’s old Law, nothing to do with the deatils of the Bentley case.

  17. hugh – “We usually jail them, if they haven’t killed themselves first. Most murders aren’t pre-planned events. They result from someone suffering an unknown and unheralded psychotic break.”

    Sorry but why do you think this? Most murders seem to be the result of someone with a feeling of grievance the legal system does not take seriously. Whether that is specifically planned or not is another matter.

    Nick Luke – “The problem with the death penalty is that is it final. You cannot, with the benefit of hind-sight, bring the dead back and apologise for killing them.”

    So what? The problem with jailing people is that they get out and kill again, they assault people in prison, they kill prison officers, they commit prison rapes. Those deaths cannot be undone either. So why do you allow one but not the other?

    “The mid-C20 you site was blighted by a run of cases that are to-day regarded as miscarriages of justice”

    And the 20th century was also blighted by a rapid rise in the murder rate once executions were abolished. Odd that.

    john b – “Ellis shouldn’t have been executed – because as Natalie notes, the vast majority of murderers in that period weren’t executed”

    That is an argument for executing more people not for refusing to execute Ellis.

    “and neither her past (which was scandalous to maiden aunts, but not criminal)”

    Prostitution was kind of illegal at the time. Which would make her a criminal, no?

    “nor the nature of her crime (which is where the crime of passion bit comes in: her victim wasn’t a cop or a kid or a stranger)”

    The nature of her crime was murder with a large degree of premeditation. Her boyfriend was avoiding her. She took a gun and spent a long time that evening tracking him down and then shot him dead. How is that not murder?

    “As it was, she was executed solely for being tarty.”

    And for murder. Don’t forget she actually killed someone.

  18. The killer left his quarters at dead of night, travelled some considerable distance, and executed the occupants at three specific houses in two different villages. It doesn’t seem indiscriminate, and the authorities need to fund out what the hell has been going on.

  19. This is all just speculation. Nobody here so far has expressed any insight that adds to what we know – which is very little.

    I don’t know if the guy had murderous intent rooted in hatred or if he was suffering mental health issues that caused him to do what he did.

    I’d hate to hang a soldier just because his masters sent him on a lengthy tour that *might* have contributed to a breakdown.

  20. I’m mildly shocked that anyone could be barbaric enough to endorse Bentley’s execution in this day and age, even among death penalty supporters.

    Murders by released murderers in the UK are vanishingly rare, to single-figure levels (murders by people who’ve been released for other crimes are significant, as might be expected, and reporting often conflates the two). A prison officer hasn’t been murdered in the UK since the Troubles, and prison rape is also extremely rare, reflecting the less dementedly brutal prison regime the UK has compared to the US.

    The homicide rate per million (PDF) in E&W was the same in 1970 as in 1950, 1930 and 1910. The lowest recorded rate was in 1960 (in line with crime in general, which was at its lowest postwar in 1956). By 1965, when the death penalty was still in force, there’d been a significant rise in homicides from 1960. Homicides rose far less steeply than general crime rates over the 30 years from 1960 to 1990 (after which, both were flat for 10 years and then fell).

    On Ellis, one of the essential aspects of the rule of law is equal treatment. As I said above, if all convicted murderers in postwar UK had been hanged, then Ellis’s case would have been fair under the law. As it was, only a small minority were hanged, in situations far worse than Ellis’s (where the murder was sadistic/multiple/in a robbery/of a policeman – roughly, the ones that get you 30 year or greater minimum terms today).

  21. Going out on a robbery where someone gets murdered makes you a murderer – that’s old Law, nothing to do with the deatils of the Bentley case.

    Called ‘felony murder’ and still available in some US jurisdictions.

  22. The law of war – such as it is – is based on *reciprocal* respect for one another. The Geneva Conventions apply between signatories, and between signatories and non-signatories who nevertheless abide by the rules. The point of having a rule preventing you mistreating prisoners and non-combatants is so that when you are a prisoner or non-combatant you will be reasonably treated. The point of making it reciprocal is to ensure both sides have a motive to respect it. By making your own conduct conditional on your enemy’s, you encourage more widespread respect for the laws of war, and hence fewer atrocities overall.

    Rules and laws *within* a unified society are generated and implicitly agreed by mutual interaction and consent. Rules between societies at war with no common ethical system are different – they have to be built not by implicit consent, but through explicit costs and consequences.

    None of that is relevant in this case though. It would apply to the Taliban – and the Americans should respect the rules in their dealings with those gentlemen to the extent the Taliban do, and make it clear that’s exactly what they’re doing. But the Americans are not at war with the other Afghans, and there are treaties in place for dealing with this sort of thing.

    It might we worth noting that Islam has the concept of the blood-price: “diyah”. I believe the diyah for killing a Muslim man in classical Islam is 100 she-camels, or their value in silver or gold. Jews, Christians, women, and slaves are obviously worth a lot less.
    (In Iran, it depends on what month you killed in, too.)

    It’s optional, but the victims family can choose it as an alternative to qisas. That obviously wouldn’t satisfy *our* notion of propriety, but other peoples have their own ethical values, which they are free to believe.

  23. The Geneva Conventions apply between signatories, and between signatories and non-signatories who nevertheless abide by the rules. The point of having a rule preventing you mistreating prisoners and non-combatants is so that when you are a prisoner or non-combatant you will be reasonably treated. The point of making it reciprocal is to ensure both sides have a motive to respect it.

    Haven’t we had this argument before? Go and read 1977 Additional Protocols I & II.

    shall apply to all armed conflicts which are not covered by Article 1 of the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949,

    But back to the original point. I am personally not in favour of capital punishment – I don’t sufficiently trust the justice system to get it right. Whether through malice, corruption or incompetence.

    And, in this specific case, I think it is essential for the maintenance of morale for the self-confessed culprit to be tried properly before sentence.

  24. The difficulty here is the huge gulf between the way American justice plays out vs Afghani justice.

    The Afghanis want immediate retribution for the act and don’t care much for distinctions like mental competency. The American justice system is very calm, slow, and affords a lot of protections for the defendant – enough so that it could be a couple of years before this guy is sentenced and even then it will at worse be life imprisonment, a long enough time that the Afghanis will think that we’re letting him get away with the crime.

    And from their point of view we will have, from our point of view we will hav made sure of the facts and given a proportional punishment.

  25. john b – “I’m mildly shocked that anyone could be barbaric enough to endorse Bentley’s execution in this day and age, even among death penalty supporters.”

    You mustn’t get out much. I am appalled that we ever allowed judges to abolish the felony murder rule. He was guilty of a crime which was likely to result in the death of someone. That looks close enough to premeditation to me. Regardless of who actually pulled the trigger.

    “Murders by released murderers in the UK are vanishingly rare, to single-figure levels (murders by people who’ve been released for other crimes are significant, as might be expected, and reporting often conflates the two). A prison officer hasn’t been murdered in the UK since the Troubles”

    But then so are wrongful executions. The issue is not whether it is small, but which is smaller.

    “and prison rape is also extremely rare, reflecting the less dementedly brutal prison regime the UK has compared to the US.”

    Actually we don’t know what the rate is as people are unlikely to talk about it and it is likely to be rare in the US too. But it is not unknown in the UK.

    “The homicide rate per million (PDF) in E&W was the same in 1970 as in 1950, 1930 and 1910.”

    More or less. And then the numbers went up. Although what you are ignoring is that medical science improved dramatically in that period too. So homicides should have gone down. They did not. People survived attacks in 1970 that in 1910 would have killed them. So the actual level of criminal violence was increasing until the murder rate outstripped improvements in medical science.

    “On Ellis, one of the essential aspects of the rule of law is equal treatment. As I said above, if all convicted murderers in postwar UK had been hanged, then Ellis’s case would have been fair under the law.”

    Women got and still get vastly better treatment than men in British law. It is absurd to even suggest that if a man had taken a gun and stalked his ex murdering her he would have walked.

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